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The rusty shield bearer

Miguel Braganza

Earth Day was muted this year as being the eve of the general elections to the Lok Sabha. For the past four years, the Botanical Society of Goa celebrated Earth Day as part of the ‘Konkan Fruit Fest’, but has shifted the event to May this year. The Goa State Biodiversity Board (GSBB) will celebrate International Day of Biological Diversity on May 22, one day before the election results. We need to celebrate what we have left and attempt to re-create what we have lost in the name of ‘development’ that seeks to convert Goa into Macau instead of just making it better today than it was yesterday. Goa is called the ‘Sunaparant’, the ‘Golden Goa’ or ‘Goa Dourado’ and one of the things that makes it ‘golden’ is the Peltophorum ferrugenium, a name that harks back on the open-cast iron ore and ferro-manganese mines!

The copper-pod, rusty shield bearer tree is botanically classified as Peltophorum ferrugenium (peltophorum pterocarpum). The word ‘ferrugenium’ literally means ‘producing iron’ and is a reference to the new brown shoots that look as if they are rusted iron. The one or two-seeded shield-shaped pods are a coppery red-brown first and then turn rusty brown and, hence, the names. These trees with small tamarind-like leaflets produce golden flowers for most part of the year. The ground below the tree has a carpet of golden flowers that are a sight to see till the May flowers or gul mohur makes its appearance.

An extensive tree survey of trees in the city of Panaji was conducted throughout May and June 2015, and reconciled by another survey in May and June 2016. The tree survey team comprised of five Botany students with knowledge of plant taxonomy (four postgraduate students from Goa University, Taleigao and one graduate student from Smt Parvatibai Chowgule College, Margao), who worked under the guidance of Cassie Rodrigues and later the founding principal of the Don Bosco College of Agriculture in August 2015. The survey found a total of 125 different plant species in different areas of Panaji city surveyed along the roads and in gardens and parks.

The 18th June road in Panaji has a hundred trees belonging to 23 different species but almost a half of them (49 to be exact) are copper-pods that have made the footpaths as if they have been paved in gold as in Dick Whittington’s story. In contrast, only eight of the 73 trees on Atmaram Borcar road belong to this golden species.

There are 242 trees of 25 different tree species present along both sides of Dayanand Bandodkar road; 49 trees are copper-pods on this road. There are six copper-pods among the 43 trees on Swami Vivekanand road. There are 43 copper-pods at Jogger’s park, in a total of 59 different plant species recorded and the total count of 458 plants. If one wants to experience ‘Golden Goa’, one needs to be under a copper-pod tree this season.

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